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Study: Every one dollar spent on Muni generates $2 to $3 for local economy

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SF Examiner

It’s often late, dirty and a bumpy ride, many San Franciscans say.

In San Francisco, the gripes about Muni are endless. Amid those and other common complaints, it’s often easy to take Muni for granted.

A new study released Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency aims to change that viewpoint. The study reveals Muni’s economic impact to The City, and shows just how much worse off San Franciscans would be without Muni.

One whopper of a finding: For every one dollar San Francisco invests in Muni, $2-3 are generated in the local economy. The economic benefits of Muni exceeded its costs by $634 million to $1.25 billion annually.

The findings come out of research from the SFMTA in partnership with Economic & Planning Systems, an Oakland-based transportation consultant. The monetized Muni benefits are calculated from the travel time savings to drivers, reduced parking costs, money saved through safety, travel cost savings to Muni riders, and greenhouse gas reductions.

Many key funding discussions in the near future may consider those findings, the SFMTA’s director Ed Reiskin told the San Francisco Examiner.

Among those discussions is a development impact fee for public transit proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener, which may go before the Board of Supervisors next month.

“This study demonstrates the significant economic benefit we receive when we invest in our transportation system,” Wiener told the Examiner. “This is exactly why the transportation fees on new developments we have proposed as part of the Transportation Sustainability Program are so essential.”

New funding is vital, Reiskin said, because Muni has nearly $6.3 billion in unmet capital needs.

“It’s easy to take for granted the great benefit transit brings to the community,” Reiskin said. “I couldn’t even contemplate San Francisco, or my ability to live here, without Muni to get around on.”

Reiskin may not be able to contemplate a San Francisco without Muni, but the study’s authors had to imagine that very scenario in order to come up with its numbers. And that outlook saw one thing: many, many, more cars.

Without Muni, the study found, car ownership in The City would “hypothetically” increase by over 50 percent — adding more than 195,000 vehicles to San Francisco’s roads.

Congestion is impacted too. Without Muni, San Franciscans would have 9.3 million to 11.5 million hours added to their commute. Muni also frees up 27 million to 30 million parking places annually.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who is also vice chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s board, noted the study shows Muni’s role in keeping The City green as well.

The benefit is not only economic, Mar said, “it helps reduce pollution and create a more sustainable future.”

Muni reduces 229,000 to 330,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the study found.

There were also benefits mentioned in the study that its authors wrote couldn’t be calculated, yet. Those benefits included how Muni boosts The City’s worker productivity, promotes public health and maintains social equity.

And, Reiskin added, the study shows how even a hindered or reduced Muni could highly impact the life of private car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

“San Francisco needs Muni in order to function,” Reiskin said, but not just for Muni riders. “For many others in San Francisco, I think it’s a huge factor.”

By the numbers

• A new study puts a dollar sign to the many benefits of San Francisco’s transit system, Muni.

• $634 million to $1.25 billion Muni’s annual economic benefit to San Francisco

• 2.0-2.9 Muni’s overall benefit-cost ratio

• 97%-191% Muni’s return on investment

• 265-500 fewer injury collisions annually due to Muni

• 229,000-330,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions reduced due to Muni

• 129,000 residential parking spaces saved by people riding Muni

• 195,000 vehicles taken off the road by Muni

• 9.3-11.5 million hours of travel time savings due to Muni, partly due to less congestion

• Muni benefits noted but not yet calculated: Worker productivity, public health, livability, social equity

Source: SFMTA

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